For 24 years, Kathleen Buhle lived something of a double life. Outwardly, she was a happy homemaker, mother of three and devoted wife to President Biden’s younger son, Hunter.
On the inside, she was battling her husband’s severe drug and alcohol addictions, his mentally abusive treatment of her, and his numerous infidelities, including with his late brother’s wife, Hallie Biden.
The couple finally divorced in 2017. Now, Buhle, 53, is opening up about the turmoil of that marriage, and her journey toward self-discovery in her memoir, “If We Break: A Memoir of Marriage, Addiction, and Healing.”
Know Your Value contributor and “Morning Joe” reporter Daniela Pierre-Bravo recently spoke with Buhle about the revelations in the book, her role in the marriage, and how she reclaimed her independence from her ex-husband.
“I started writing during a difficult time in my life to try to make sense of what was happening,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “There was a period where I lost a sense of who I was.”
That difficult period occurred when Hunter’s older brother, Beau, was diagnosed with a fatal form of brain cancer and died in May 2015. According to the memoir, that’s when her ex-husband’s addictions worsened, despite his previous stays in rehab.
“Addiction impacts the whole family, but the problem often times with addiction is there’s a lot of shame surrounding it, which there shouldn’t be,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “You know, we all worried about my ex-husband’s addiction, but we weren’t talking about it … so we were all sort of in our own private world of fear.”
Buhle acknowledged that writing the book, as well as talking to her family and friends about it, was the first step in her healing process after her divorce, something she said wished she had been more open about back then.
“For anybody who’s lived with an addict or loves an addict they’ll understand how difficult it is, how painful it is to watch someone struggle with sobriety and how helpless you feel,” she said.
Over the course of their marriage, Buhle’s memoir reveals how she discovered numerous infidelities her husband had with other women, including his sister-in-law, Hallie Biden, after his brother Beau’s death.
When she confronted him about his relapses and indiscretions, she said she was often gaslighted. “I really fought the label of gaslighting … because of the shame that comes with it,” Buhle explained. “I may have been in a well-known family, but I know so many people who have gone through the same thing, and the gaslighting in my experience was a defense in order [for Hunter] to continue using.”
But in hindsight, Buhle said she wished she could have realized his struggles were not about her. Since her divorce, she’s built resilience by taking back her maiden name and becoming financially independent, while her ex-husband is the subject of a Department of Justice investigation into his finances and business affairs.
“What happened to my marriage, is common in many marriages, where you sort of divide responsibility,” she said. “I was a homemaker and a full-time mother and I loved it, but just because my husband was responsible for the finances shouldn’t have meant that I wasn’t aware or had a say in how we used and spent our money. ” After the release of the memoir, Buhle had been asked if she had any knowledge of her ex-husband’s financial dealings with her, to which she said she had none of her.
But just as she was reclaiming her independence, Buhle hit another unexpected roadblock that same year. She learned she had stage 3 colon cancer. “Talk about changing your perspective, I mean as quickly as I was diagnosed did I think I can’t believe I was upset about my divorce,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “So much of what I did was continue to get up and move forward, but I don’t take for granted that I’ll live to old age.”
Now that her daughters are young adults – Naomi, 28, Finnegan, 23, and Maisy, 21 – Buhle said she’s looking forward to daughter Naomi getting married in November and focusing on healing.
“I think getting a better understanding of why I did the things I did helped me to get closure,” she said of writing the memoir. “For so long I kept secrets and didn’t want people to know that I was struggling… the minute I opened up and was honest with others and with myself was when I began to heal.”
Buhle’s advice to other women going through the same turmoil? “Don’t keep it to yourself,” she said. “Let go of the shame.”